Boundaries — noun: a definition of Self

“Ah, boundaries, how I love thee. You saved my life and made me whole.” –-Me

Here’s a personal story. When I was a young adult (probably during my drug using years), I had a vivid dream of being a spiritual being. Visually, I was disembodied, maybe a glowing entity like I saw on Star Trek way back when. I especially felt happy in this dream as there were big parts of my childhood that I felt unhappy about, parts I wanted to escape.

I felt clever and special, even a little bit powerful, as I wasn’t limited to my physical situation anymore. The romantic part of this visual was that I saw others like that as well, and when we interacted, it was this lovely intermingling of our auras/clouds. The times we connected made our lights brighter, more vibrant. I didn’t dwell on this idea, but it was in the back of my mind for quite a while.

It turned out to be a bit of a shock when I found myself in the throes of self-pity, how often I felt victimized, powerless, and overly dependent on others. In my mid-30s, things were falling apart — my job, my marriage, my physical and mental health… It was at this time that I came to understand codependence (which some say is at the root of all addiction). I also came to understand the necessity of boundaries.

It turns out that boundaries are all over the place, I just didn’t think they applied to me. I wasn’t trying to be disrespectful, I just hadn’t seen the value of them yet. Learning what they were, and how I could apply them to my life, was a game changer. Not only did my life improve, but so did my child’s. Also, every other relationship I was involved in also improved. Here’s why:

The primary effect of a boundary is an understanding of where the responsibility for someone, or something, ends.

A fence helps mark where two properties end. It doesn’t prevent things from crossing over, but there’s a clear indication when a line is crossed. The attitude between the two property owners can determine how things are resolved, but (usually) there’s no argument over the placement of the fence, especially when both parties are involved in the fence being installed.

The same applies with boundaries between people, but the trouble is that there are often assumptions made that are vague and ambiguous. Also, when people share responsibilities for a boundary, there’s potential for misunderstanding and conflict.

Healthy relationships have healthy boundaries.

If you’re experiencing a relationship that isn’t thriving, you may want to investigate your own boundaries. Setting healthy boundaries requires education, and they are also skills that can be improved. The great thing is that boundaries are simple, powerful, and totally within your control. Once you understand them, setting them, and maintaining them, can become effortless.

Healing dysfunctional boundaries can take significant commitment, and you may encounter resistance. Getting support can help a lot. Lifehacker had a recent post entitled, “Being the Better Person Will Teach People To Treat You Like Crap“. This represents another situation where someone involved is clearly disrespectful. I concur, if you don’t adjust your behavior, you’re “co-signing” theirs by giving tacit approval. I think the title is a bit loaded, though, as they distort what being a “better” person really means.

Btw, here’s a tidbit from a colleague. Brian wrote about the “Three E’s”, a tool that he uses for setting boundaries, “Establish, Educate, Enforce.” Click through for more info.

This is a very brief introduction to boundaries. If you’re interested in learning more, leave a comment below, or contact me directly!

3 Tips for Helping to Find Clarity

I’ve come to know an amazing coach, Monika Kovacs, who started a wonderful discussion on Facebook about helping someone to find clarity. She brought up the scenario of someone who is completely unclear about their calling, but this challenge comes up in a wide variety of situations. It could be a personal journey, a business project, a relationship issue, a health matter, etc… In some way, a person may be dealing with a lack of accurate information, a period of confusion, struggling with disbelief, or all of the above.

I was given a description of a healer’s job by a friend in the past who said that her job was to provide the space for a person to heal themselves. As a principle to work by, I found this respectful and empowering, and I’ve found that more often than not, I have more capacity for healing myself than I realize. Prior to that, I had frequently thrown up my hands in the belief that I needed others to heal me, that my best approach was to be fundamentally passive while they fixed me.

To some degree, getting help is necessary. There are situations where a trained expert is the most qualified to perform some procedures. Once done, though, the healing is up to me. Consider an orthopedist who sets a bone and molds a cast. Once they’ve completed their procedure, I’m the one that needs to take responsibility for my healing. In fact, you could say that my choosing to go to a qualified orthopedist is an important demonstration of my personal responsibility.

As Monika asks, though, the situation sometimes arises when a person doesn’t know where to begin or how to go about finding their way. Here are a couple tips that I keep in mind during these situations.

Provide Time and Space

It’s a busy world, full of distractions. Add on common stressors of instability, financial struggle, or relationship issues, and a person would be hard pressed to get enough time and space to think straight! Yet, that’s exactly what some people need, and the resistance can often be overcome through reassurance and gentle assertiveness.

Providing a quiet, uninterrupted space, and a set amount of time, can be simple, yet powerful, steps towards a person finding some clarity. People are often on edge, would up, or on alert, waiting for an interruption, something to come up, some urgent matter. Cell phones calling at all times, emails chiming, etc… we’ve allowed ourselves to be easily interrupted, and it takes a conscious decision to turn away from that state of mind.

Yet it can be very easy. Maybe a person is already prone to letting the phone ring when they are taking a shower or eating a meal. Maybe there are people important enough that a person would be willing to silence their phone. Going to the movies is another example where crowds of people are willing to turn off their phones for a movie’s worth of uninterrupted entertainment.

Offer some reassurance that, for as long as they are talking with you, they can turn off their phone and be assured of no interruptions.

Give Attention

For many people, they’ve easily gotten all the attention they wanted. It’s a non-issue; they know that when they want attention, they know who to contact, or they’re self-confident enough that they can give themselves enough attention.

For others, though, there may have been a time when they became convinced that at some point, they were not going to be paid attention to. They might have been ignored or neglected, and it may have occurred only for certain subjects or with certain people. At the worst, people with young childhood traumas can be convinced that their deepest wants and needs were simply not that important; that they would have to struggle and fight to get their needs met.

Those are two ends of the spectrum, and there are infinite variations between. For those with the self-assurance of attention, you might not have to offer much. For those that have a strong disbelief, you might have to offer more assurance, and then honor them with your very best attention.

Give Love

Love can be a difficult thing to define. Without going literal and pulling out a dictionary, I still have a hard time defining it, but I have come to make it mean something like this: a demonstration of respect, tolerance, kindness, and affection. To the various people in my life, my love for them is a combination of those things with widely varied intensities. You may never fully grasp the depth of love I have for my daughter, and yet I can easily say I love everyone I meet.

So, for that person seeking clarity, I say give them love. Respect that whatever they say is the truth according to them. Tolerate that their truths may be different from your own. Be kind, encouraging them to explore what they are looking for, and offer affection as they may be struggling to find something very lost or hard to discover.

There may be countless voices within their minds, accumulated over years of life, that may be vigorously keeping this person’s world view the same as it’s been. If they are struggling to find their calling, it may be because their calling is very different from what they have built up for themselves to this point.

There are lots of other ways to support people, but these are simple, yet powerful tools. You can apply these principles to any person or organization looking to solve an elusive challenge. If you’re able to help someone believe, even for a moment, that they can explore something completely different, you are offering a pretty great service. This may be just the thing that a struggling person needs to find their calling, and if you’ve read this far, then you know the incredible value of a person finding that for themselves.

Access your essence while getting some peace and quiet

Our minds are busy places. We have so much to keep track of for our own lives, and we’re connected to hundreds, sometimes thousands, of other people. Maybe you can relate with struggling to “turn off” your mind.

Some people use entertainment, but these are just different things to keep our mind busy. TV shows, movies, music — they can all be fun and exciting, but our minds are still busy thinking or enjoying.

Some people use drugs and alcohol, but these are anesthetics. They numb our minds and senses but, while also fun and entertaining for a while, they have various side effects.

Meditation can be done by absolutely anyone, and it is simply quieting our minds by choice. For many people, the more willing you are, the easier it is to do. What you can experience from meditation will be very personal, though, but one of the things you may find is your essence — your core self. Another thing you can find is peace and quiet.

A recent article in HuffPo suggests that meditation can help “unlock your natural wisdom and compassion.” I’ve found that most people, at their core, are filled with wisdom and compassion, yet much of the time their minds are too busy with “stuff”. The practice of meditation offers some time to quiet down.

In a practical way, people get close to meditation when they exercise or focus on a particular subject. Pushing aside distractions to complete a task at work or home, allowing the activity of running or working out to be the only focus, or giving complete attention to a loved one — all of these approach the practice of meditation by setting aside all other thoughts besides the one thing you’re focusing on.

Try taking that a step further, to focus on your heart, your breath, or your idea of stillness. Try setting aside all other thoughts for just a few minutes. Give your mind a rest, and enjoy some calm in your life.

Cranky much?

I’m slow to admit it, but there are times when I’m cranky. Thankfully, they don’t happen as much as they used to, and I could go off on why that is, but today I’m admitting to having been cranky the past two days.

It was clear to me, there was no doubt, and the reason was just as clear: I was tired. I’d been pushing too hard, not getting enough sleep, and that was enough.

There’s a mnemonic for helping to manage crankiness: HALT – Hungry? Angry? Lonely? Tired? If any of these are true, I’m likely to feel cranky. At the least, I’ll be susceptible to becoming cranky.

I know why I was staying up too late, and it was a conscious choice. I also see how much effort it took to compensate for that, and the costs involved. I was cranky at soccer practice (and I told the team at the start of practice); I was cranky with my other teams (and I owned up to that as well). I had to take responsibility for it since it was totally me being cranky, and it had nothing to do with what they were doing. They didn’t deserve to receive my crankiness, and I made sure that I didn’t act out towards them.

So, the questions to you are: are you feeling cranky? If/when you do, are you catching it? Do you understand why you’re feeling that way? Are you making others pay for your choices? Are you taking corrective actions to prevent recurrence?

Like I said, it took a while; over two days, and some mindful rest. I’m back to feeling grounded, and I’m excited once again for today’s soccer practice with the girls.

Best yet, I’m having a good day.

Hair conditioning – is that all you’ve got?

Is that really the only thing in life that you’re conditioning?

conditioning: Train or accustom (someone or something) to behave in a certain way or to accept certain circumstances.

I mean, yeah, the obvious and familiar “other” is your body’s physical fitness, but what about your mind and spirit? Are you actively providing the intended benefits of conditioning to those aspects of life? Or are you “letting those slide…”

What are the benefits of conditioning? We can make things stronger, faster, more powerful… sure, but we can also make ourselves have more resilience and endurance. We can develop more grace and agility, more focus and dexterity. All of these characteristics can apply towards our intellect and our spiritual well being.

I know people who live according to principles geared towards “spiritual conditioning”. These are people that are strong and powerful, more able to handle life as it happens. They are more prepared to deal with crisis, and they carry themselves and others with dignity and respect. They often live with a mind towards service of others. They are some of my very favorite people.

I know many others that don’t subscribe to that type of lifestyle, and I love them just as much. What I love seeing in all my friends is a commitment to their personal truth, seeking whatever makes them happy, joyous, and free. I’m often filled with gratitude just by being present in the lives of people like that; it’s such a gift to me.

On the other hand, I have yet to find someone that is fulfilled in life based on the quality of their hair care.

Note: I was tempted to pun around with “hare conditioning”, but the best I can do is offer a reference from my hero: Bugs Bunny in “Hare Conditioned” (1945)

Refuse, Insist, Demand

“Your career is strong. It can handle more than you realize.” — Sally Hogshead

“A life spent curled in a ball, hiding in the corner might seem less risky, but in fact it’s certain to lead to ennui and eventually failure.” — Seth Godin

As Sally suggests, “refuse to castrate your (self)”. Seth promotes the idea of “shipping”, making art, creating something new, borne from your unique self.

Fear, such a lovely monster. More often than not, nowadays, I can laugh at the ways in which fear holds me back. In the past, I couldn’t help but think it was a reflection on my self worth, that if I were “better, smarter, more lovable”, then I wouldn’t feel fear. That analogy was such a load of crap.

Now, having excised that demon, I can see the tricks and mind games that fear tries to play on me, especially when I want to get something done, make something new.

Whether it’s in my career or some other aspect of life, it really is appropriate to cop some attitude: to absolutely refuse to castrate myself, to insist (damn it!) on staying tapped in to my creative spirit, to demand respect for my mission in life.

Most importantly, though, I have to apply those attitudes to myself.

Note: If this is a really difficult proposition for you, you might benefit from professional help. Please consider it, get a professional opinion, even if the result is clarity that you don’t need help.

Another note: If you have people trying to convince you that you can’t do this, that you’re not good enough, you might consider excusing yourself from their company.